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New allies take on common foe
Turnout belies supporter hype

Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, apparently, attached too much importance on showcasing their newfound unity the second time they came together after two decades, in Chhapra on Sunday.

For, the size of the crowd at Jaipal Singh ground in Chhapra, 60km from Patna across the Ganga, did not match the “hype”. There were around 5,000 people — almost the same as in Subahi — where the duo first met after ages on August 11. But Subahi’s crowd was more responsive, Chhapra’s urban crowd contemplative and muted in response.

The relatively small turnout prompted BJP rivals to say the people had “rejected” the Lalu-Nitish unison. The RJD-JDU-Congress cadres, however, blamed the lesser turnout on incessant downpour in the state for the past five days. They found “solace” in the fact that Sushil Kumar Modi and Nandkishore Yadav drew about 2,000 people on Saturday. They too had blamed the rain for the poor turnout.

Nitish and Lalu, however, tried to exploit the rebellion plaguing the BJP by showcasing their unity. “We have far more votes than the BJP. The RJD, JDU and Congress together polled 45 per cent votes against the BJP’s 30 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls. Though the BJP stands nowhere in terms of vote-share, it managed to garner more MPs, exploiting a division in our ranks and fooling voters with the so-called Modi hava,” Lalu said .

Chhapra — a segment of the Saran Lok Sabha that Lalu has won five times in the past — has been a BJP stronghold for quite some time. Even when Lalu won from Saran, he would trail in Chhapra, dominated by banias and Rajputs. During the Lok Sabha polls in May, victor Rajiv Pratap Rudi of the BJP registered a lead of over 40,000 votes over the RJD’s Rabri Devi in the Saran segment.

But it may not be a cakewalk for the BJP this time. RSS swayamsevak and physician C.N. Gupta’s entry into the fray as an Independent threatens to upset the BJP’s calculations by making inroads into its traditional vote base. Gupta has managed to make the battle for Chhapra a triangular affair involving him, the BJP’s Kanhaiya Singh and JDU-Congress-backed RJD candidate Randhir Singh.

Explaining why JDU joined hands with the RJD, Nitish said: “We (Lalu and I) have joined hands to save the nation. Where will we go if the nation fails to exist? The BJP came to power at the Centre by communalising society. The BJP leaders’ rhetoric has jeopardised the very foundation India and Indian society stand on”.

Trying to strike a chord with the Rajput community — a key element in Chhapra — Lalu said: “O Thakur sahibs! RSS men have infiltrated your settlements. They create a wedge among brothers”.

Despite showcasing their unity, cadres are unhappy. “We will not vote for a Rajput candidate because Rajputs did not vote for Rabri Devi last time,” said Ashok Rai, a Yadav teashop owner.

Lalu and Nitish also campaigned for the Congress candidate in Narkatiaganj, Md. Fakruddin Khan. Their meeting was preceded by chaos as people turned restive with the leaders arriving five hours behind schedule.